The Big Event, Big Crash Compilation; Chill Out There is Nothing New on Wall Street

The Up Down
The Up Down

Wall Street has seen it all. Not much new under the rainbow.

And I really like how Ben Hunt states that:

The inevitable result of financial innovation gone awry, which it ALWAYS does, is that it ALWAYS ends up empowering the State. When too clever by half people misplay the meta-game, that’s all the excuse the State needs to come swooping in and crush them, just as they are with Bitcoin today they did with Bear and Lehman in 2008.

He adds:

Financial innovation is always and in all ways one of two things — a new way of securitizing something or a new way of leveraging something.

Securitization is a ten-dollar word that means associating something in the real world (a cash flow from a debt, an ownership interest in a company, a deed on a property, a distributed ledger mathematical calculation, etc.) with a piece of paper that can be bought and sold separately from that real world thing.

Leverage is a ten-dollar word that means borrowed money.

That’s it. There’s nothing new under the sun. Finding new ways to trade things (securitization) or new ways to borrow money on things (leverage) is what financial innovation is all about, and there are vast riches awaiting the clever coyotes who can come up with a useful scheme on either.

The biggest market disasters happen when both leverage and securitization get mixed up with the same clever scheme, as when new ways of leveraging and securitizing U.S. residential mortgages were developed in 2001, resulting in the creation of a $10 trillion asset class that utterly collapsed during the Great Financial Crisis. There were a lot of coyotes involved in so gargantuan an Idea That Changes Things, but most illustrative for these purposes is the Gaussian Copula formula published by David Li in 2000, the “technology” which allowed the securitization of pretty much any mortgage portfolio (prior to this most securitization was limited to “conforming” mortgages securitized by Fannie Mae and other government-sponsored mortgage agencies) and also the leveraging of those securities through tranching (splitting up the security into still more securities, each of which can be used as collateral for more borrowing, particularly those tranches with higher credit ratings). I wrote a bit about the Gaussian Copula in “Magical Thinking”, and if you want to learn more you can’t do better than Felix Salmon’s 2009 Wired magazine article — “The Formula That Broke Wall Street” — still my all-time favorite piece of financial market journalism.

Adding to the thinking I have assembled a treasure trove of insights into Wall Street’s Big Events.

But, alas, many will ignore the precedent and stay in la la land with Dorothy: